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Paths out of poverty

March 31, 1999

A Baltimore-based foundation on Tuesday released a study showing that West Virginia has more children living in poverty than every state but Louisiana and Mississippi, and that the percentage of youngsters below the poverty line has grown by 15 percent in the past five years.

The study concludes that the state still needs new industry to offset job losses in coal-mining areas, but suggests that the group most in need may be the working poor who've recently moved off the welfare rolls.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation did the study as part of its stated mission - to encourage changes in government policy that help needy families and their children. It concluded that child poverty is increasing because parents' incomes aren't improving. It also suggests that help will come from new tax incentives, better education and programs designed to help families making the transition from welfare to work.

Those conclusions would seem to validate the incentive-based approach to attracting industry described approvingly in the West Virginia Manufacturers' Association bulletin for January 1999. WVMA noted that when Toyota located a plant in Scott County Kentucky in 1985, the firm was given land, utilities, roads and wastewater treatment in a package worth $147 million.

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In return, Toyota promised 3,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $90 million. By 1997, the work force had grown to 7,600, with an annual payroll of $470.4 million. WVMA noted that the incentive package was heavily criticized when first announced, but said it now appears the benefits the state reaped are worth far more than it invested.

It will also take some time to see the benefits that will come from programs designed to aid those in the ranks of the working poor. The study notes that more mothers are now working to offset drops or stagnation in fathers' incomes. To help these workers move from entry-level, minimum-wage jobs to something better, non-profits will have to help with training and child care. Those inclined to be stingy with private help should realize that without it, government will face pressure, perhaps as a result of a future Casey study, to increase subsidies to the poor again.

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